Penny Mills (Chief Consultancy Officer) led a recent project with BIFA (British Independent Film Awards) to learn about under 30s' relationship with independent film.

November 20, 2019
Photo of the author - Lucie Fitton

Lucie Fitton

Photo of the author - Penny Mills

Penny Mills

Head of Learning and Participation, Lucie Fitton, had a chat with Penny to reflect on her key learning points from the project...

How did this project come about?

"Younger people are a priority for independent cinema and a big audience for cinemas generally. The research was commissioned by BIFA who run the annual film awards of British films (and international films with distribution in the UK) who are developing their work to support the industry more widely. They received funding from the BFI (British Film Institute) to research what they and the sector can do to engage younger people with independent film. The work was funded by BFI as part of some wider strategic work under their BFI2022 Future Audiences Strategy, including some research into audience crowdsourcing which informed the Our Screen initiative."

What was the focus of the research?

"Initially the brief was to consult and research to inform the development of an app, which would support young people’s engagement with independent film. However, whilst it can be tempting to think about undertaking research around a defined solution, it became clear that it was important to work with the audience and partners to understand the challenges before even thinking about what the end product could or should be. Our research therefore re-focused on understanding how we can influence under-30-year-old film-goers to explore independent film. In doing this we needed to investigate the market-place of younger people open to this kind of film and then consider how best to market to and engage them."

What was the approach?

"First we reviewed existing data around under-30s engagement with film more widely, both at the cinema and on digital platforms. This was followed by stakeholder consultation with a range of people in the industry, which confirmed that there was a real gap in research specific to young people’s relationship with independent film.

There is existing profile data on film audiences, although this tends to be largely about selling and marketing big budget films and advertising in cinemas. There are also existing initiatives which engage younger people across the BFI Film Audience Network, as well as Into Films work around engaging young people with the industry. However, there is very little research around people’s behaviour and attitudes around independent film. We wanted to get under the skin of that and understand what influences young people’s film behaviour and the decision-making processes they go through. When do they watch, how and where, and - most importantly - how this fits into their lives.

We then carried out qualitative research, around the UK in a range of environments, from independent cinemas to commercial multiplexes to 4 Youth research panels, as well as some social media analysis utilising the Brandwatch tool.

Initial findings were then explored through a quantitative survey, distributed to a large UK sample of under 30 year olds. A final set of discussion groups allowed us to test out some propositions BIFA could take forward and helped define what role BIFA could take in the sector."

What were the standout findings?

  • No one platform fits all. Young people value cinema, home and digital film experiences equally, but will consume different content in different places; they are more likely to try the new and unfamiliar, such as independent film, at home via digital platforms.
  • In is sometimes the new out. It’s important for the sector to recognise that cinema is not the ‘only’ or ‘right’ way or place to watch independent film. A film ‘event’ for a group of friends could equally be a night in with Netflix as a night out at the cinema.
  • A joined-up approach. Recognise and work within young people’s multi-platform-online-offline existence. Connect digital experiences to a cinema offer, especially as the former can be pathway into the latter and vice versa.
  • The power of YouTube. Work at finding presence and visibility in the world of visual communications channels such as YouTube. As sophisticated consumers and creators of visual communications, young people watch a lot of trailers on platforms like YouTube.
  • Peer-to-peer trust. Young people don’t want to be told what to see by formal ‘experts’ but do look to explore and reflect on the recommendations of people they know, respect and who represent them. Consider how you can use these diverse and representative voices to support young audiences to develop their film choices.
  • Socially sophisticated responses. The film industry needs more dialogue with young people to ensure content is representative of the way young people live. For example, they were critical of films that focused on singular specific elements of young people’s lives (i.e. coming out, in relation to sexuality) – they experience life in a multifaceted way and want films to adopt a more cohesive approach.

You can read the full report HERE

Penny will be presenting a snapshot of these findings at the Europa Cinemas Network conference in Lisbon on 22 November 2019 -


Featured in the November edition of The Learning Diaries. Aimed at those working in learning, engagement or participation in the cultural sector, this newsletter will share updates from our team on sector events, ideas from some of our projects and links to new research. To receive The Learning Diaries, visit the sign up page.